Thursday, 25 April 2019

The Disturbing Cult Of Greta Thunberg: Questions She Can't Answer (And No One Else Will)

Teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg has explained how the “gift” of living with Asperger syndrome helps her “see things from outside the box” when it comes to climate change. “It makes me different, and being different is a gift, I would say,” she told journalist Nick Robinson. "I don’t easily fall for lies, I can see through things."

It's optimistic, unfledged self-confidence, but alas it's the opposite of the truth. She is  doing everything she thinks she isn't doing - she is falling for lies, she can't see through them, and she is thinking too narrowly inside the box, not outside, in participating in a mass delusion. She is trying to tackle complex questions she doesn't understand with over-simplistic answers she thinks she does understand. This child-led mass hysteria, and political fawning from the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas, is quite a sad thing to see.

The appropriate response to Greta Thunberg's Kumari-like cult following is to give her, or anyone on the side of climate change alarmism, the opportunity to do something they never do, and seemingly never will do - to show there is a problem that needs solving; to show they understand that it can be solved with radical new measures, and to propose viable solutions to solve it.

The fact that they can't do this, and never attempt to, is reason enough not to take them seriously, because if they really did care about this issue as they say they do, and genuinely thought there was an intelligent solution, they'd be happy to shout it from the rooftops. Given the foregoing, in my submission, here is the only way they can show themselves as a credible group to be listened to seriously:

1) Give us a proper, comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the present relationship between industrialised human progress and its effects on the environment, showing why the resultant analysis yields a net cost against the industrialised human progress in favour of a radical interventionist alternative.

2) Given the efficacy of number 1, propose a practical, realistic method of implementation of a series of mitigating actions within the current technological capacities, stating timescales, expected empirical results, and why this series of actions won't knock on to have a net detrimental effect on the positive elements of human progress we are trying to sustain.

3) Given the combined efficacy of 1 and 2, present an empirically demonstrable, fully costed plan of action, explaining how this allocates the required resources more efficiently than the market, and how the leading two dozen world economies can best come together to achieve this without it having a net negative economic impact on their citizens.

4) Given the combined efficacy of 1, 2 and 3, justify why all these impediments to market growth won't have a net detrimental effect on the developing world - on the planet's poorest billion people, who most urgently need a global, industrial market in which to participate, to help them climb the ladder of prosperity.

No one, child or otherwise, can even begin to call themselves a serious climate change thinker until they've produced a detailed analysis based on those 4 assessments. And that is the challenge that should be presented to all of them, every time they try to propagate their agenda - because they have earned not one jot of credibility until they do. Until they accept this most necessary challenge, they are simply crying out to be treated as a deluded, brainwashed cult of hysteria, with no real handle on the way the world operates, and the underlying complexities to which human endeavour is subjected.  

Monday, 15 April 2019

Wiping Out 60% Of Animal Populations May Not Be A Bad Thing

I read a report that says humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970, and that humankind has destroyed 83% of all mammals and half of plants since the dawn of civilisation. Now this immediately sounds like bad news, and it may well be bad news, but it may not be. The information in the article is insufficient to tell us one way or the other.

Perhaps the entirety of human progress and all that created value and happiness has been worth the price of eradicated life forms. I think it probably has been worth it, but perhaps not. One thing is sure though; if you want to defend a particular view, you ought to have a good argument about the pros and cons of human progression, and devise a proficient metric for establishing which has greater precedence. In other words, you mustn’t (as many people do) just read a headline like “humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970” and assume it’s a bad thing, because it may not be.

It doesn’t help, of course, that the language they use is set up to make you feel like it’s a bad thing - where terms like ‘wiped out’ connote some kind of allusion to genocide or bacterial eradication. A much more sensible analysis might conclude something like “During the unprecedented explosion of human progression in the past few hundred years, compared with the hundreds of thousands of years of human plight and suffering that preceded it, many species have been unable to co-exist alongside that progression, sometimes due to human activity and sometimes not”. That’s a much better way to phrase it.

This is especially relevant given that palaeontologists estimate that 99% of every species that has ever lived has now become extinct, and that the vast majority of those extinctions occurred long before humanity came on the scene. Most species died out in the natural fight against nature’s oppressive forces - severe weather, biological competition for survival, natural disasters, and so forth - so the narrative that the animal kingdom was a safe, stable place before rotten humans came along to spoil everything is, at best, hugely exaggerated, and at worst, a very unfair reflection.

Here's a novel way you could think about it. You could note that endangering the existence of things for human benefit is a dominant part of our existence. Measles, mumps, rubella, smallpox and polio have been prominent in human history, and thanks to medical advances, their existence has been endangered for the benefit of humanity. We are glad these diseases have been eradicated because they bring about impediments to human progression.

It isn’t, therefore, a huge category leap to say that we could ascribe overall positive benefits to humanity’s progression, even though many species have been unable to co-exist alongside that progression. In other words, if we can be reasonably glad that diseases have been eradicated because their survival brings about impediments to human progression, it’s not self-evident that we shouldn’t be able to put up with other living things being eradicated because their survival brings about impediments to human progression, as long as the benefits outweigh the costs.

To do a proper cost-benefit analysis, you would have to assess how much humans value the gains against the losses of extinct species. An argument can be made that as part of the analysis we must include the cost of life to the species themselves, but that’s hard to measure, and it’s not obvious that the way we may attempt to assess it is in any way meaningful to human minds.

All we can do is have a stab at measuring the costs to humans of other species’ extinction, and even that is difficult. What price would it be worth to humans, for example, to preserve lions on the planet? If every human had to pay out 25% of their annual income as a one-off payment to guarantee the survival of lions, is that too much? It sounds like a lot too much. What about 25% of their annual income to save lions, tigers and elephants? It still sounds like too much. What about 0.01% of our annual income to save all mammals? That doesn't sound like too much at all. What about if the cost of saving lions fell to one individual, and he wasn’t allowed to receive any financial help? Would a one-off fee of £50,000 be worth it to save all lions? Maybe it would for Bill Gates, but wouldn‘t for a minimum wage worker.

The upshot is, there isn’t an easy way to measure whether the sum of human progression has been worth it for the cost of the extinctions of other life forms - but given how much humans value their own lives, it is at least reasonable to consider that it might have been a net benefit to the world to bring about such a huge sum of human happiness. When thousands of tiny creatures die in order for a single house to be built, almost nobody doubts that the value for the inhabitants outweighs the cost to all the living things in the soil. It’s possible that that truth could be equally well extended to the sum of human happiness.

And if you think it’s difficult to measure the value of a human life, you only need to look at how humans behave to see how much we do value it. According to Steven Landsburg’s research on this matter:

“A standard ballpark figure for the value of a life is about ten million dollars. What this means is that empirically, people are willing to pay about $1 to avoid a one-in-ten-million chance of death, about $2 to avoid a one-in-five-million chance of death, about $10 to avoid a one-in-one-million chance of death, and so on for various other small probabilities. (Theory tells us that willingness-to-pay to avoid a probability of death should be some constant times that probability, as long as the probabilities are small. Data tell us that the constant is somewhere around ten million dollars.”

If every life is worth 10 million dollars (by the way, it’s not self-evident under this metric that every life is worth the same in economic value, but let’s assume it is for the sake of argument), and there are 7.5 billion people in the world, then humanity being alive compromises an aggregated value of at least $75,000,000,000,000,000. That is 75 quadrillion dollars!

So while it isn't factually accurate to say that "humankind has destroyed 83% of all mammals and half of plants since the dawn of civilisation" - because it involves many false attributions of causality - perhaps an aggregated value of 75 quadrillion dollars has been worth the price of some species being unable to co-exist alongside us, or perhaps it hasn't: but it's the epitome of lazy thinking to just assume it hasn't and not bother to consider the situation with a proper cost-benefit analysis, as so many do.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Eugenics & The Dark History Of The Minimum Wage

Many people believe that the minimum wage is a state policy that helps poor people. Some even think it should be higher than it currently is. People who actually understand the real effects of the minimum wage – a club you’d hope would be larger than it is – know that this is economic foolishness: that the minimum wage actually makes the vast majority of poor people worse off (see my Minimum Wage / Living Wage side bar on this).

Some people know something else on top of that – that, actually, far from being a state policy that helps poor people, the minimum wage was actually sinisterly invented as a eugenics-type method of keeping so-called ‘undesirables' out of the job market (I wrote an article about this for the Adam Smith Institute – re-printed in full below).

When politicians support economically foolish policies, the relevant incompetent or dishonest? question looms large: Do they support foolish policies because they don’t understand they are foolish, or do they know the policies are foolish but support them anyway because they are popular vote-winners? Of course, added to the second option is the reality that in some cases they support a policy because to not support it would be damagingly unpopular.

One clue of the answer to that question might be this. We all know of instances in which politicians understand that artificially raising the cost of something will reduce its consumption, because that's what they try to do with taxes on goods like sugar and alcohol. They seem to understand the basic principle that their actions will reduce consumption of the thing they're taxing, so they probably could work out that artificially raising the cost of employment will reduce employment. To me it indicates that in many cases they probably know the policies are foolish but support them anyway because they are popular vote-winners.

Here is that article I was talking about, talking about the minimum wage's very dark history:

We read today that the national minimum wage will increase by 20p an hour to £6.70 from October, and that this will benefit more than 1.4 million workers. What we hardly ever hear from politicians is how many people will feel the costs of this increase, in addition to the people who are already being hurt by having a minimum wage law in the first place.

The problem with state-enforced minimum wage laws is pretty standard economic text book stuff: the minimum wage makes it harder for low-skilled workers to get a foot on the labour market ladder, it unfairly loads the burden on firms that employ low-wage earners (a burden that could be avoided by simply reducing the tax low-earners pay, or taking them out of tax altogether), and as a result it often causes inflation of prices and reduction in staff as firms try to recoup their losses.

With the announcement today, and with the Budget looming, I was very interested to stumble upon an article this week by Jeffrey Tucker about a Eugenics Plot Behind the Minimum Wage, in which we find out that in the early 20th century some eugenicists tried to introduce the minimum wage as a means of getting some of the lesser able people out of the employment market. Here are some relevant quotes that are bound to shock:

A careful look at its history shows that the minimum wage was originally conceived as part of a eugenics strategy — an attempt to engineer a master race through public policy designed to cleanse the citizenry of undesirables. To that end, the state would have to bring about the isolation, sterilization, and extermination of nonprivileged populations.

It was during this period and for this reason that we saw the first trial runs of the minimum wage in Massachusetts in 1912. The new law pertained only to women and children as a measure to disemploy them and other “social dependents” from the labor force. Even though the measure was small and not well enforced, it did indeed reduce employment among the targeted groups.

Leonard documents an alarming series of academic articles and books appearing between the 1890s and the 1920s that were remarkably explicit about a variety of legislative attempts to squeeze people out of the work force. These articles were not written by marginal figures or radicals but by the leaders of the profession, the authors of the great textbooks, and the opinion leaders who shaped public policy.

“Progressive economists, like their neoclassical critics,” Leonard explains, “believed that binding minimum wages would cause job losses. However, the progressive economists also believed that the job loss induced by minimum wages was a social benefit, as it performed the eugenic service ridding the labor force of the ‘unemployable.’”

So when we hear politicians make minimum wage commitments in the run-up to the election, bear in mind that those that preceded them were always fully aware that wage floors precluded people from the labour market, and that they were once deliberately implemented to expunge the demographic landscape of those they thought inferior citizens that were unworthy of earning a living. That they so readily endorse a policy that places a barrier to employment for so many people tells you just about all you need to know about the extent to which winning votes matters far more than aiding people’s job prospects.

I hope that, in my lifetime, politicians and social commentators begin to get the simple message that if you artificially remove the lower rungs on the labour ladder, you make it difficult (often impossible) for people to climb it, or in some cases, get on it at all.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Writer's Update: It's The Easiest & The Hardest Time To Be A Writer

I'm still fairly quiet in Blogosphere, as I'm focusing my efforts on editing my books. Aside from my biggest problem, which is creating more new stuff than I ever finalise from the panolply of old stuff, I'm making quite good progress. I thought I'd take a break this morning, as the following thoughts about being a contemporary writer entered my head.

I don't know much about modern fiction (I'm a classics man), but when it comes to non-fiction, it looks to me like it has never been easier to be a writer, and it has never been harder either. Everyone knows why it has never been easier: the Internet has given us the best tools we've ever had for successful writing - increased knowledge, a wider platform, and more ways to become a widely read author. But those are the same tools that have also made it harder than ever before to be a successful non-fiction writer, because a combination of greater competition and more ubiquitous and intense scrutiny has greatly increased the required standard for academic writing that is sold as popular social science.

This generation more than any other is a generation in which the anachronisms of Thomas Carlyle's Great Man theory - that history is written by the impact of a minority of charismatic and powerful men - have been well and truly put to bed. Nowadays, pretty much everyone is a writer of some sort (even if it's just publically sharing a thought or making comments on social media) and everyone is a critic too. Widely read authors receive thousands of comments, as the readers seek to obtain parity with the author, and in many cases supersede them with their wit and intelligence.

Intellectual endeavours have been more widely collectivised and democratised, while at the same time specialised research has become so interconnected within international fields - it is harder than ever before to write anything truly remarkable that does not trespass on other people's toes. Given that almost every field is awash with expert analysis resulting from years or decades of rigorous research, it is hard for an individual writer to produce anything that covers a broad and complex domain of thought that is at the same time seminal and ground-breaking.

For writers looking to make a big impact, the challenge has never been greater!